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Showing posts from 2015

Unitarian Theology Conference 2016

Something I've been working on. . All are welcome at a Unitarian Theology Conference at Cross St Chapel, Manchester, on Saturday 21st May, 2016, 10.30 for 11 am start. Details are on poster below.  Fuller details also in text below. Unitarian Theology Conference, Cross Street Chapel, Manchester Saturday 21st May 2016. 10.30 for 11am to 5pm "Do Unitarians need Theology?" Stephen Lingwood Response by Dr Melanie Prideaux Lunch (please bring your own, or sandwich bars nearby). "The Spirit in Unitarian and Judaeo-Christian Thought" Rev Jo James KEYNOTE ADDRESS "Towards a Unitarian Theology for the Twenty-First Century" Rev Dr David Steers. Panel Discussion: Revs Sarah Tinker, Sheena Gabriel and Lewis Connolly. Opening and closing devotions, as well as time for Q + A. The conference is supported by The Hibbert Trust. Further information contact Rev Jim Corrigall.

On ten years of blogging

Happy birthday to this blog! Well OK, Reignite 's birthday was in August. I did mean to note this at the time but I was on holiday, and then the busyness of September hit etc etc. The fact that the tenth anniversary of this blog went by quietly is pretty typical of the nature of this blog at the moment. It's true that I don't have the time to blog as much as I used to. And I also have a lot more outlets for my writing in various publications as a part of my ministry, which I didn't have in 2005 when I started . But it's also true that this blog has always remained a bit homespun and low-key, so there didn't seem to be a need to make a big thing about it. I try to keep it simple, and for example have never updated the format of the blog, which probably means it looks a bit old-fashioned now. But I like to let the writing speak for itself. Although my writing here gets very patchy nowadays I have no plans to stop the blog. I still find it a useful format for b

Unitarians and the imperialism of pluralism

Unitarians have a problem with pluralism. We think of ourselves as cool pluralists, and constantly tell ourselves we are all about pluralism - that our congregations are full of religious diversity. "We are very diverse people!" we shout ad nauseam. But I want to argue that we're not actually true pluralists. We're not true pluralists but imperial pluralists. An often unexamined theology we espouse is that we are building a "religion of religions" - that us (and us alone) offers the possibilities for all religions to come together "under one roof." What we fail to see is how imperialist this is. We expect all religions to come together on our terms and under our auspices. It looks something like this: Unitarianism is the holder of religious diversity in this model. But can you not see that this gives Unitarianism a privileged place? We are the ones in charge. We are the ones who create the context into which all of the world's religiou

We need to be a faith

I am responding (admittedly probably too late - apologies for that) to the Unitarian conversations started by the Executive Committee on "Vision" following a Vision Day last year. Of course this day (as these things always do) ended with a lot of words that are now being reflected upon. But I think the first phrase is in some ways the only thing that matters: "We want to be... a faith that matters."  In fact, I would say this is still too wordy. The challenge is that "we need to be a faith." That's it, simply being a faith. If we're not engaged in the things of faith: prayer, God, soul, forgiveness, theology, then we're not really being a faith and everything else is just window-dressing. But this leads me to another really important point. It it not the Executive Committee's job to nurture faith in Unitarianism. In fact it's not the Executive's job to do most of the things suggested in the Vision document. What we're

Winning elections shouldn't be the aim

I occasionally feel the need to write about politics on this blog. There are a lot of people more qualified than me to talk about this of course, and they do. And there's all kinds of things I'd want to say that others can say better than me about politics and the election, and there's not a lot of use repeating it. But I've found myself shouting at the radio and TV a bit recently so I have felt the need to express these thoughts. I'm thinking a bit about the Labour leadership election. I've heard some of the leadership candidates speaking and got so frustrated by the lack of any inspiring vision that I felt the need to think more deeply about this. What I haven't heard from many of the leadership contenders is the sense that winning elections is not an end in itself, but the means to an end. There's a lot of talk about "we have to do this and that to win elections" - but my question comes back to "why?" Why does the Labour Party

An invitation to a conversations about Unitarian Anabaptism

In recent years I've found myself identifying more and more as a Unitarian Anabaptist. This is increasingly feeling like the path for me. But I don't want to plough a lonely furrow on this path, but rather I want to connect with others who might be open to this approach. So I'm interested in connecting with others who would like to explore what it might mean to follow a Unitarian Anabaptist spiritual path. What do I mean by Unitarian Anabaptist? Well, by Unitarian I mean a commitment to spiritual oneness, the unfolding nature of truth, inclusion and pluralism. By Anabaptist I mean a commitment to radical equality, peace, simplicity and discipleship. This conversation would be inspired by the historic extinct Unitarian Anabaptist movement in Poland as well as the recent resurgence of interest from contemporary (UK and Ireland) Christians in Anabaptism, exemplified by the Anabaptist Network . I would like a conversation that would explore what it might mean to g

Why Unitarians need to experience orgasms (spiritually)

The joke goes something like this: A Unitarian finds a fork in the road. One sign points to "Heaven" while the other points to "A discussion about heaven." The Unitarian follows the path to "A discussion about heaven." There's a lot of truth in that joke. In fact I think the situation is sort of worse than that. I would categorise the Unitarian situation as more like this: A Unitarian finds a fork in the road. One sign points to "an orgasm" while the other points to "A discussion about orgasms." The Unitarian follows the path to "A discussion about orgasms." The problem with our religious life, most significantly about our worship life, is that we believe we are worshipping by having a discussion about worship, or praying by saying clever things about prayer. It is as ridiculous as believing you are having an orgasm by attending a three hour lecture about orgasms. The two do not compare. We gather, sing songs, li

Churches are not immortal

This is sort of obvious when you say it out loud: Churches are not immortal. Churches (I mean local congregations) do not live forever. Why would they? Nothing lasts forever. And yet we often act and talk like churches should be immortal, and that if they die it is an unqualified disaster. Of course a church, like a person, dying prematurely is a tragedy. But a church, like a person, dying after a good long life may just be a fact of life. Sad, most certainly, but also in the natural order of things. And we can respond to this death with sorrow but also with gratitude. But how often do we deny this reality? How often do we assume that a church can live forever or that it should? How often do we think of church that is something somehow ancient and eternal? How often do we think our priority should be ensuring that churches live forever? Sometimes churches can be saved. Sometimes not. They just die. It's not actually death that should worry us. It's reproduction. I

Where is leadership?

When we think about the state of the Unitarian community in Britain, as I have been doing in recent posts here, our great temptation is to come up with a list of all the things "they" should be doing. What do we mean by "they"? We tend to mean the General Assembly structures, the Executive Committee and the small number of paid staff at Essex Hall. I'm sure I have done this before now. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have. It is completely unrealistic to expect that "they" can do something about the health, vitality and growth of our movement. I've realised this now. That's the truth of the matter: they can't. Let's be realistic about what the Unitarian General Assembly structures can do. They can: Coordinate the training and qualification of ministers. Provide a few other resources, and pieces of training, like hymn books, good governance, children's work training etc. Provide some publicity by mainta

What does the Unitarian future look like in Britain?

I'm reflecting on the declining (perhaps accelerating decline) of Unitarian congregations in Britain. The numbers are not good . Just over 3000 Unitarians and a drop last year of 200. You don't have to be too skilled at maths to work out that a continuing decline at that rate would give us just 15 years to total extinction. Of course statistics don't work quite that neatly. But when I look around at the age profile of many of us, it really doesn't seem impossible to be looking at death in less than 20 years. I've always said things will get worse before they get better. It maybe that this "getting worse" is really starting to bite in 2015. This may be the the beginning of the end. Unitarians may find this quite depressing. In many ways it is. It may be particularly depressing when we think of all the good work that Unitarians do on many projects. It may be disheartening, because in many ways I think Unitarianism is doing quite well. In many ways th

Growing, declining and stable Unitarian congregations 2014

Following on from my last post I am having a closer look at what the Unitarian membership numbers reveal about the state of the denomination. Comparing numbers to last year it looks like most congregations are either stable or slowly declining. The biggest decline is London Hampstead that has gone from reporting 134 members to 79 members. The Annual Report suggests this is the result of a tidying-up exercise on behalf of that congregation, which is fair enough and needs to be done. But this does rather suggest maybe a change in numbers over many more years which is now only being reported this year. This change means the combined congregations of Newington Green and Islington are now the biggest congregation with a combined membership of 87. However this is down from 92 last year, after seeing a period of extended growth. I haven't analysed every single congregation, but those that stick out for me reporting a decline are Cambridge, Croydon, Dean Row, and Eccles. But als


It's that time if the year again, when I crunch some Unitarian numbers. The Annual Report has landed heavily on my doorstep and I turn right away to look at reporting church membership numbers, and the total number reported. And guess what? Numbers are down again. 3,179 members of Unitarian congregations reported. This is down 205 people from 3,384 reported last year. A drop of 6%, which is a pretty big yearly drop. Here, again, is how the numbers look over the last few years: 2005: 3952 2006: 3754 2007: 3711 2008: 3642 2009: 3658 2010: 3672 2011: 3560 2012: 3468 2013: 3384 2014: 3179 This gives a decade drop of 773 people or about 20%. The Unitarian community is one fifth smaller than it was a decade ago. There are of course more than things that could be said about all of this. But these numbers should not be ignored by any of us.

Thematic Ministry

I'm excited to be doing a new approach to worship and ministry from next month. It's an American practice to operate "thematic ministry" - this means having a monthly theme which all (or almost all) the worship and religious education revolves around. It's most useful for our Junior Church as it helps them plan better, but as a preacher I'm also looking forward to how this will develop our worship practice. So I've developed our themes, largely inspired by All Souls Tusla . There's an article about this here.  I've tweaked these a bit, and I may still change them in the future as I go along. But at least theoretically I have settled on themes for the next three years (with the idea being they would then cycle around again). Here they are: September Earth October Identity and Humanity November Peace and non-violence December Birth January  Healing February Love March Justice April Res